9.268 vagueness

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Sun, 5 Nov 1995 17:51:00 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 268.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Marta Steele (9)
Subject: vagueness

[2] From: Gary Shawver <gshawver@epas.utoronto.ca> (13)
Subject: Re: 9.266 vagueness

[3] From: "H-CLC (BD)" <bdiederi@artsci.wustl.edu> (35)
Subject: Re: 9.261 vagueness

[4] From: "Sarah L. Higley" <slhi@troi.cc.rochester.edu> (8)
Subject: Re: 9.266 vagueness

[5] From: Curtis Rice <crice@sfu.ca> (18)
Subject: Re: 9.266 vagueness

[6] From: Language Technology <langtech@DGS.dgsys.com> (18)
Subject: Re: 9.266 vagueness

Date: Thu, 2 Nov 1995 08:56:34 EST
From: Marta Steele <Marta_Steele@pupress.princeton.edu>
Subject: vagueness

As an editor and translator, I tackle this problem all of the time,
from a more pragmatic perspective than the sought-after philosophers.
Vagueness has its value in more poetic contexts, of course, where it
is to be cherished and untouched. As far as the rest, I would request
that Willard give us a sample passage, a case in point, to argue over
and perhaps generalize from. I don't promise to add any further
arguments, unless I really have something to say, but I'll certainly
be interested in reading what ensues from this, if anything.

Marta Steele
Princeton University Press

[Perhaps others would be willing to contribute examples as well? --WM]

Date: Thu, 2 Nov 1995 09:11:59 -0500 (EST)
From: Gary Shawver <gshawver@epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 9.266 vagueness

Fellow Humanists,

"once the text has been marked up, where has the vagueness gone?" Do
we have any concrete examples of markup that eliminates vagueness
(ambiguity) in a way that is fundamentally different from the "markup"
practiced by modern editors? I'm not sure I understand how any amount
of markup can eliminate ambiguity so long as the text is there to be
read. We always have the choice of disagreement with the
edition/markup/spreadsheet and can produce editons/markup/spreadsheets
of our own, which is in fact what does happen in lit. and in life.


Gary W. Shawver "The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam gshawver@epas.utoronto.ca yesterday--but never jam today." http://www.epas.utoronto.ca:8080/~gshawver/gshawver.html

--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Thu, 2 Nov 1995 10:23:24 -0600 (CST) From: "H-CLC (BD)" <bdiederi@artsci.wustl.edu> Subject: Re: 9.261 vagueness

A late response to Willard's question about vagueness. Not being a philosopher, either, the discovery of the concept of vagueness in the past 30 years has completely escaped me, but when I finally became aware of it half a year or so ago, it made possible a long overdue breakthrough in my research project. As probably most computing humanists, at first I was fascinated with the precision of the computer, the fact that it forced me to be clear, conscious and honest about the choices I was making. Yet it was impossible to arrive at any useful results. The literary text I was investigating was too complex for the mechanistic computing methods I was trying to employ. I generated tons of quantitative analyses and tons of paper with output I could not interpret. Zadeh's "Fuzzy Sets Theory" addresses exactly that experience: "Essentially, our contention is that the conventional quantitative techniques of system analysis are intrinsically unsuited for dealing with humanistic systems or, for that matter, any system whose complexity is comparable to that of humanistic systems. The basis for this contention rests on what might be called the principle of incompatibility. Stated informally, the essence of this principle is that as the complexity of a system increases, our ability to make precise and yet significant statements about its behavior deminishes until a threshold is reached beyond which precision and significance (or relevance) become almost mutually exclusive characteristics. It is in this sense that precise quantitative analyses of the behaviour of humanistic systems are not likely to have much relevance to the real-world societal, political, economic, and other types of problems which involve humans either as individuals or in groups." This insight and computing methods that have een developed subsequently could make it possible to combine what workes from both worlds: the precision and honesty of the computer with the human ability to make judgements and dicisions in very complex situations that can not be completely quantified. I'm not sure whether and how this might relate to markup, but then again, markup is most likely not the goal but only a step there.

Barbara Diederichs bdiederi@artsci.wustl.edu

--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Thu, 2 Nov 1995 13:30:37 -0500 From: "Sarah L. Higley" <slhi@troi.cc.rochester.edu> Subject: Re: 9.266 vagueness

I think that to tackle and conquer "vagueness" in language is to become like Swift's Houhynhms, who cannot say "the thing that is not," and, consequently, little else that is human, grand, and inspiring. As for the "marked up text," that's what I do for a living, and that's what academic hypertexts do. Editors offer "readings," and scholars and teachers point out how they limit the text in doing so.

A medievalist, Sarah L. Higley slhi@troi.cc.rochester.edu

--[5]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Thu, 2 Nov 1995 18:03:04 -0800 (PST) From: Curtis Rice <crice@sfu.ca> Subject: Re: 9.266 vagueness

Just a thought on vagueness. You can consider writing itself a "mark-up language". Language in essence is oral. Try tape recording any discourse and literally transcribing it. Hardly a "sentence" is complete. The discourse is replete with unfinished utterances, interruptions, outside-the -text references, grunts and uh huhs and uh uhs and . . . Only if you listen to the recording do you catch inflections and emphases . . . and only if you witnessed the actual dialogue can you be reasonably sure of an interpretation - except where ambiguity renders any interpretation doubtful. Hours of transcribing (I've done it) leaves you wondering how human beings actually communicate anything. But we do because of the many non-verbal elements which we pick up intuitively in a flash. As Eddington said in as many words, reality is inherently messy. We spend our time imposing order on it. Writing is the "order" we impose on inherently "messy" oral communication. Even then we have some vagueness which is the further subject of reduction to order by text mark-up languages. So we're really talking about vagueness twice removed. Curtis Rice <crice@sfu.ca>

--[6]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Fri, 3 Nov 1995 20:20:46 -0500 (EST) From: Language Technology <langtech@DGS.dgsys.com> Subject: Re: 9.266 vagueness

Willard has again gone to the heart of an important matter! Where, indeed, has all the vagueness gone? One of the perceived goals in my field, Natural Language Processing is disambiguation -- deciding which of several meanings found in a text is the CORRECT one. I have believed for some time that this goal is inappropriate; we cannot disambiguate language, nor should we want to, because language is ambiguous and slippery and useful and poetic! The push toward finding the ONE meaning in a text could be blamed on the many engineering-types in the field, but if textual markup has the same goal, the blame must be shared with the humanists as well.

Having begun my literary career in analytical bibilography, I would have to answer Williard's question in the only way I know! where has all the vagueness gone? To the footnotes, of course!

Mary Dee

Mary Dee Harris, Ph.D. 202-387-0626 Language Technology, Inc. langtech@dgs.dgsys.com 2153 California St. NW mdharris@aol.com Washington, DC 20008